6 February 2015

Friends, Romans, Hedgelayers

 Friends, Romans, hedgelayers … 

One of the great things about working at High Wray it is that we are playing our part in helping to keep traditional skills alive. One such skill is hedgelaying, which is carried out all over the country with regional variations in styles and techniques. It’s a fascinating process with a long history – according to the National Hedgelaying Society in 55BC Julius Caesar mentioned a tribe in Flanders using techniques recognisable today.

Hedge with a view

A winter task often means chilly conditions!
Hedgelaying is a job that can only be done in winter when the sap is not rising. It involves cutting hedge plants most of the way through their stems and ‘laying’ them on their sides to form a stock proof barrier. The traditional tool for this is the Billhook, although often today hedgelaying is done with a chainsaw.

A billhook - lots of regional variations available ...
 As well as looking good, a laid hedge provides shelter for the stock, encourages new growth in the plants and makes good ground cover for wildlife. The regional variations come (amongst other things) with the differences in how steep an angle you lay the plants, how wide and high your hedge is and where you put wooden stakes to hold everything in place.

Finished stretch of hedge, quite late in the season (note leaves on plants)
Collateral benefits

So it’s a satisfying, traditional skill that many regular local volunteers look forward to each winter – although for some we’re sure that has a lot to do with the fact that when you’re hedgelaying you generally have a nice big fire to burn all the excess bits of wood!

Utilizing the fire in a vain attempt to dry out the thorn proof hedgelaying gauntlets
We also run National Trust hedgelaying working holidays which adds an extra level of interest for us as we will often have some quite experienced people from other parts of the country turning up to ‘see how we do it here’. Not only do they bring different knowledge and experience we can pick up on, they sometimes bring all sorts of interesting tools and equipment for us to admire too.

That's some very interesting equipment - A working holiday participant's wood burning kettle
By the time we finish this year’s hedges the season will be over for the year and we’ll be moving on to other tasks. We look forward to this time, not because we don’t like hedgelaying but because the end of it heralds the start of spring and all that glorious sunshine that’s no doubt heading our way …..

Find out more about National Trust working holidays here:

By Rob Clarke, Basecamp Community Ranger

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